Good judgement

Keeping yourself and your passengers safe means being prepared and using good judgement when you're out on the water.

What is judgement?

Judgement is about making good decisions about safety-related factors on the water which interact with each other – for example, your speed, other vessel traffic, your vessel's capabilities and weather conditions.

We're always exercising our judgement – sometimes automatically when things feel familiar and sometimes more consciously when we perceive more risk.

Good skippers can recognise common on-water risks and apply good judgement to manage them safely.

As the skipper, you're responsible

Boater judgement usually gets better with experience, but even the most experienced skippers can face unexpected challenges out on the water.

As the skipper, it's your responsibility to keep everyone safe - so here's a few things to factor into your decision making every time you head out on the water:

A few days before your trip

  • Make sure your vessel is suitable for the conditions.
  • Regularly check the weather before and during your trip.
  • Ensure you have enough safety equipment on board for you and your passengers, and it is in good working order, including lifejackets.

On the day of your trip

  • Make sure your vessel is suitable for the conditions.
  • Regularly check the weather before and during your trip.
  • Ensure you have enough safety equipment on board for you and your passengers, and it is in good working order, including lifejackets
  • Log on/off with Marine Rescue NSW, or tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return
  • Regularly check the weather during your trip – conditions can change quickly
  • Know your limits and avoid taking risks. If in doubt, don’t go out.

While on the water

  • Always keep a proper lookout. If keeping a good lookout becomes difficult or stressful it probably means you are going too fast for the conditions. If so, slow down.
  • If you are unsure how to manage any on-water risks, consider slowing down, changing your location, changing your vessel or rescheduling your trip for another day.
  • More information on boating rules can be found in the Boating Handbook.


Vessel suitability

It's important you know the wind and wave limits of your boat and don't take chances in conditions you might not be able to handle.

Boats are designed and built for different purposes. There are different hull shapes to suit different water conditions and loads.

The design, construction, stability, flotation and maintenance will all be factors in the safety and performance of your vessel. Boats designed for use on inland or sheltered waters are not usually suited for use in open waters or along the coast where waves are larger.

The right size boat will depend on the number of people you intend to carry, the amount of equipment, provisions and goods you intend to load into it, and the type of water conditions you expect to experience.
Boats fitted with appropriate internal buoyancy, such as foam, will remain afloat when capsized or swamped. This improves the chances of rescue and survival in the event of an incident, particularly in isolated areas or offshore.

Click here for more information on choosing the right boat for your preferred on-water activity.

Safety equipment checklist

The minimum safety equipment you must carry depends on the type of vessel you're in and whether you're on open waters or enclosed waters.

All safety equipment must be:

  • in good condition and meet appropriate standards or specifications
  • maintained or serviced according to the manufacturer’s specifications
  • replaced before the manufacturer's expiry date (if applicable)
  • easy to find and access.

See the essential safety equipment section in the Boating Handbook for more detail.

Powerboats and sailing boats

On powerboats and sailing boats of any size (except tenders and off-the-beach sailing boats) you must carry:

Equipment you must carry

Enclosed waters

(including alpine waters)

Open waters


For each person on board – see When to wear a lifejacket.



Anchor and chain/line

Except for sailing boats up to 6m long.


Bailer or bucket with lanyard

Except for sailing boats with permanently enclosed, self-draining hulls.



Bilge pump (electric or manual)

For vessels with covered bilge or closed underfloor compartments (other than airtight void spaces). Must be able to drain each compartment.

Larger vessels may need additional bilge pumps.



Chart (map)

For area of operation (printed or digital).



Fluid filled magnetic.


Distress flares

Not expired.

2 orange smoke

2 red hand

Drinking water

2 litres per person

EPIRB – 406 MHz

Must be registered with AMSA and not expired.

1 (if 2nm or more from the shore)

Fire extinguisher

For boats with electric start, electric engines, battery, gas installation or fuel stoves.

Larger boats may need additional fire extinguishers.



Marine radio

1 (if 2nm or more from the shore)

Paddles or oars and rowlocks

For boats up to 6m long, unless they have a second means of propulsion.



Safety label

Except for sailing boats without engines.



Sound signal

Air horn, whistle or bell.



V sheet

A minimum of 1.8m x 1.2m.


Waterproof torch

Floating and working.



Recommended equipment


First-aid kit



Kill switch lanyard

For small powerboats.






2 means of communication

For example, a marine radio and mobile phone in a waterproof cover.